Netanyahu to meet Bar-On in apparent bid to bypass Livni
Planned meet with senior Kadima MK Bar-On comes after Livni rejected offer to join Likud-led coalition.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Finance Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) on Tuesday, in the wake of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's rejection of Netanyahu's proposal to join the coalition and her decision to take her Kadima party into the opposition.
Even though the meeting is officially entitled an "economic briefing," political commentators believe Netanyahu is trying to bypass Livni and persuade Bar-On, a leading Kadima MK, to favor the centrist party's accession to his cabinet.
This assessment is supported by the high-profile rivalry between Netanyahu and Bar-On, especially with regard to economic policies, and the fact that such a session has not taken place even once since Bar-On's appointment as Finance Minister, more than two years ago.
On Friday, Netanyahu accepted the mandate to form Israel's next cabinet.
During a Likud faction meeting on Monday, he said: "The nation wants unity [government], and this is what we need. The times of emergency ahead require leaving petty politics aside."
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday morning in Jerusalem in efforts to recruit his Labor Party to his future coalition, but to no avail.
Barak rejected Netanyahu's invitation, saying that "the voters' verdict has sent the Labor Party into the opposition, and I told Netanyahu that we will serve as a responsible, serious, and constructive opposition."
Netanyahu hopes to bring moderates like Barak and Livni into his coalition to win international support and a stable parliamentary majority.
Netanyahu said that he will press on with his efforts to establish a broad coalition, and that he will meet with Livni and Barak again later this week.
Senior Labor officials announced immediately following the elections, which gave Labor a disappointing 13 out of 120 Knesset seats, that the party was headed for the opposition. Barak addressed this issue at a faction meeting last week, saying that the Labor Party had no other viable option other than to sit in the opposition.
"The voters have said their word," he told his fellow party members. "Under these circumstances the picture is clear - we are going to the opposition."
On Sunday, Netanyahu and Livni agreed to meet again for talks in the next few days, but stressed that no coalition negotiations are underway.
"I will be taking Kadima into the opposition," Livni told reporters Sunday night, after their first meeting since the February 10 election. "Netanyahu has asked for another meeting - and I agreed. As far as I am concerned, this meeting has changed nothing."
Livni said there are still "profound differences" between the two parties' positions on the peace process and talks with the Palestinians.
Also briefing reporters, Netanyahu said he told Livni, "I will continue to try to form a national unity government to counter the threats facing Israel. This is the will of the people."
Netanyahu listed the threats facing the country, adding that "it is incumbent upon us that we unite all of our forces for this common goal."
He also hinted at the gaps between Kadima and Likud, but added that "I believe we can overcome these differences with a little goodwill. However, if Kadima tries to scupper a unity government, it will find a way to do so. We can and must find a common path. I believe that this is the will of the people that we form a unity government. In the end, unity will prevail and we will find a common path."
Earlier Sunday, Livni declared that she intended to remain in opposition, and her parliamentary faction voted to back her in "upholding the principles with which Kadima went to the voters and ensuring their realization as a condition for any entry into the government."
Before the meeting, Netanyahu's associates said he planned to make Kadima a generous offer, including two of the top three cabinet portfolios - defense, finance and foreign affairs - and full partnership in drafting the government guidelines.
They also said he would promise to continue final-status negotiations with the Palestinians. That is a key issue for Livni, who was in charge of these talks as foreign minister in the outgoing government.